Chicago continues at the Curve, Leicester until 18 January 2014.
Back in 1991, John Kander and Fred Ebb’s Chicago was Paul Kerryson’s choice for his first production as artistic director of the Leicester Haymarket. Now it’s the centrepiece of Curve’s fifth birthday celebrations, a work of genius, with brand new choreography by Drew McOnie, and a take on the world of showbiz that accords so well with the celebrity-obsessed, paparazzi age in which we live.
It is decadent, sexy, a razzle-dazzler in every possible way. Chicago is a city hungry for sensation, where murder is entertainment, and the innocent without recourse to money will go to the gallows. It’s all glitz and neon up-front but ugliness underneath, a reality powerfully emphasised by Philip Gladwell’s lighting. Serried ranks of steely pendant lamps ascend, descend and extend into the auditorium to create the institutional harshness of the prison. Here, Hunyak, the Hungarian inmate (Anabel Kutay), dies in a parody of a magician’s rope trick, hauled high above the stage.
For it’s all a circus, and the manipulative lawyer, Billy Flynn, is the ringmaster, revelling in a sea of female adoration and pink feather fans, at one point leaning impudently on the girls’ upturned stilettos. David Leonard plays Flynn with panache. The number, ‘We Both Reached For the Gun’ – where he, the ventriloquist, is feeding rehearsed lines to Roxie – is memorable for its speed, precision and sheer skill of execution.
Gemma Sutton as Roxie can switch from winsome to wicked in an instant, just by raising or lowering the register of her voice. It’s compelling, a winning performance, in which she perfectly complements Verity Rushworth as the sardonic, streetwise Velma. There’s such wryness and assurance about Rushworth’s performance, whether it’s the big numbers like ‘Cell Block Tango’ or her solo, ‘I Know a Girl’. Sandra Marvin’s powerful voice can move mountains and still remain melodic as Mama, Matthew Barrow wins hearts and sympathy as the put-upon Amos, ‘Mr Cellophane’, and Adam Bailey is Mary Sunshine, breathy and demure in stockings and cloche hat.
The dancing is raunchy and acrobatic, immensely physical. Tumbling bodies end up stacked in impossible tableaux. The dancers use the tension of ropes, circus-style, and can be almost androgynous in costumes sometimes so skin-tight as to look painted-on. Male dancers in nappies and with dummies do an outrageous ‘Me and My Baby’ with Roxie. The energy of it all is exhilarating, the spectacle lavish and the comedy inventive. All the stops are pulled out for the big numbers on Curve’s great, high-tech stage. Glorious.
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